Shea Butter Origin
Shea Butter has been used in Africa for many centuries to alleviate problems of the skin and scalp. It is produced from the edible nut of the fruit from the Karite tree grown in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and other Savanna Grasslands of West Africa. It is a wild growing tree that produces tiny, almond-like fruit from which Shea Butter is extracted. The tree itself is not cultivated and takes 40 to 50 years to mature. In most parts of West Africa, destruction of the Shea tree is forbidden due to its economic and health benefits. Many Africans regard Shea Butter as an invaluable agent for internal and external body purification. It is also used as an after-shave, hair balm for dry and brittle hair, and on the head of drums to prevent drying and cracking. It is a sacred food for many.
Characteristically, Shea Butter has a smooth and soft paste texture and is either yellow - white to ivory color depending on how it is processed. The tree resembles the American oak. Shea Butter should never be bright gold as some gold butter has become that color through the addition of additive oils like Palm. The kernel is enclosed in a sweet pulp, under a thin green rind. The fruit from the kernel is first sun dried, the butter is prepared by boiling the kernel in water, and has the appearance of a Spanish olive. Women are usually responsible for the process of making Shea Butter. This process takes place in the rainy seasons from May to August when the Shea nuts are harvested and involves many days of carefully picking, gathering, drying, pounding and kneading.
Shea Butter is organic and as such has a useful life span. We find the healing properties within Shea Butter become reduced as the butter ages. It is typically useful for 12-15 months after it has been harvested. After this time period, it becomes simply a very good moisturizer. It should be stored in a cool dry place with limited light for best keeping. Butter originating from par boiled or Shea nuts stored for long periods of time should be avoided. If you are not sure of the age of your butter, ask detailed questions of your supplier. Please see our FAQ page for points to consider when purchasing Shea Butter.
The Shea Butter can be processed using two methods. The two extraction processes are crushing and the extraction by solvent. Most of the fatty contents are obtained by chemical extraction using hexane as the solvent. The advantage of the solvent process is the percentage of fatty acids extracted is maximized. This chemical process produces Shea Butter at the lowest cost. The use of Shea Butter in the chocolate industry has standardized on this chemical method. In this industry, few care because Shea Butter is sought as a substitute for cocoa butter and not for its active principles. Shea Butter is used for its intrinsic properties in the beauty care industry. The Epicurean Shea Butter Company uses Shea Butter that has been extracted without solvents. The mechanical crushing gives a pure and natural butter with all its inherent qualities but this method does not allow the extraction of the total amount of butter from the nut. The quantity produced is less than by solvent extraction. Therefore the price is higher. The Shea Butter Store only provides Shea Butter that has been extracted using the mechanical crushing method.
We supply multiple grades of Shea Butter throughout each harvest season. We separate Shea Butter into four separate grades which are the following:
Color: Cream to pale yellow
Refining Process: Naturally filtered through diatomaceous earth to remove impurities and remove most of the natural scent.
Non Saponables: 5 -7%
Uses: Cosmetic and Soap Manufacturing.
Unrefined Filtered (RAW)
Color: Tan to light yellow
Filtering Process: Naturally filtered through UN-BLEACHED cloth to remove visible impurities. Medium to strong nutty/smoky scent.
Non Saponables: 7 - 12%
Uses: Cosmetic and Soap Manufacturing for none scented products. This is the traditional stuff with a very distinctive smell.
Unrefined Unfiltered (RAW-Special Order)
Color: light yellow to dark tan
Filtering Process: None. Medium to strong nutty/smoky scent. All the impurities that were present in acquisition and processing of the nuts are present
Non Saponables: 7 - 12%
Uses: This product is as close to the Shea tree as is possible without visiting African personally. This is the traditional stuff with a very distinctive smell.
Special Note: Occasionally you will find a RAW butter that is GOLD or BRIGHT GOLD in color. WE DO NOT PROVIDE THIS TYPE OF BUTTER. This butter has been extended or "enhanced" with Palm Oil, local herbs and sometimes stretched with water, thus reducing its effectiveness and bringing into question, its purity. It is typically found with vendors that do not have the resources for testing/certifying or commitment to the long term viability of Shea Butter.
We DO NOT provide the following
Super or Ultra Refined
Refining Process: Machine filtered to remove impurities and standardize color and extreme-heated to remove all odor.
Non Saponables: 1 - 2%
Uses: *Cosmetic and Soap Manufacturing. Cooking and chocolate industry.
*Ultra-refined butter is like cooking oil. The ultra-refining process cooks the butter up to 300 degrees. It is the same butter that is used in chocolate. It is much, much harder and the skin-beneficial properties are killed when heated to this level.
We looked at ultra-refined during our inception and found the quality of ultra-refined to be unacceptable and its non-saponable (the part which is really healing/moisturizing for skin) non-existent. Traditionally this butter comes via Europe and the chocolate industry via the least expensive route. It typically is hexane extracted to control cost and traditional fair-trade practices are not observed.